Monday, September 28, 2009

Dru Philippou: Nostos

Open the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and enter the Nysian meadow, naming roses, crocuses, and beautiful violets . . . irises too, and hyacinths. Avoid narcissus, that sweet temptation, unless you want a seat at Haides’ banquet. If you have time, pass by the olive-trees bearing their splendid fruits, and you’ll hear Persephone’s echoing cries.

he clasps the maiden
tightly in his chariot
the four black steeds
gallop back to the palace
of dust and ashes

growing used
to his ways, and
his three-headed hound,
she stokes the flickering
fires of oblivion

the dark-haired lord,
on an ebony throne,
polishes his helmet
while Demeter braids
a wreath for his door

the taste
of the seed seals
Persephone’s fate:
misty darkness
and vines of the earth
Matter in italics is borrowed from “The Homeric Hymns” by A. N. Athanassakis

by Dru Philippou
Taos, New Mexico

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gary LeBel: Marked Down

On one side of it hang small wooden clothes hangers, demure and down-turning like an old maid’s shoulders. On the other half is a row of four drawers, each decorated with a covering of fine silk cloth,

the digs, dents and scratches in its riveted wood exterior, each well-earned, each with a story,

the bristling palms of a sea-windy latitude, a dollop of soft language, silk ties and tailored shirts,

ice in amber liquids, the scent of cardamom in Turkish coffee, the spoon-tinkled china half-filled with milky tea, an intricate lace doily beneath the ‘ever so’ inflections of the young woman above,

a world traveler’s home away from home bouncing up the gangway on a lean coolie’s back,

or the truncheon blows of pistons and the slow grinding argument of wheel and rail,

the vast undifferentiated poor that live between points of interest,

who serve the tea, speak the pretty words, lug the luggage, wash the lavatories, shine the shoes and clear the tables of still-warm food:

the turn-of-the-century steamer trunk and the Old World trapped inside it

just marked down to fifty dollars

in the thrift shop.

drinking from a gully
the three-legged dog

by Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tish Davis: Gesso

He's an artist, still asleep under the quilt. Last night's shoes and clothes are scattered, leaving a trail back to the kitchen. I've found his robe and with my coffee enter the studio just as the morning light slowly edges along the face of each canvas hanging on the wall.

Definitely talented. I study each painting—oils, abstract, subtle. There’s a common theme including this blank surface now drying on the easel. The staples—notched along the sides—are diagonal, haphazard.

dimming the lights
the bust of Caesar
back on the bookshelf

by Tish Davis
Dublin, Ohio
first published in
Contemporary Haibun Online, V4, N1, March 2008

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bob Lucky: The Shuffling Blues

This morning I roll out of bed with sore hips and limp to the toilet. Surely I’m not as old as I feel, though a glance in the mirror is inconclusive.

the older I get
the weaker my sense
of immortality—
the heart carved in the trunk
stretched to the bursting point

No pension to speak of, no money sense, no hope of a hefty inheritance—I will die in harness like an old workhorse. To my wife, I’ll leave a mixed bag of memories; to my son, shoes that I pray do not fit.

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jeffrey Winke: Part of the Grand Design

A short skirt is a promise. Nothing more, nothing less. Guys view promises as sacred trusts; women know promises can easily evaporate, like spilled water in a desert. She wears a short skirt, shear black lacy leggings, and tiny alligator-skin boots that look clunky, but stylish. Her eyes scan the room as she enters. She’s a collector. Her collection: hopeful stares of men. The quartet plays “Eye of the Tornado”—how fitting. Hancock becomes her soundtrack. Scrambled sax and piano—primal brass and sophisticated ivory. There is the usual assortment of guys with dopey, boyish grins. The boyish-grin-thing only works when there’s a bit of mischief in the eyes. Altar boys never get laid, but boys in detention do. She saunters to the bar with hip swivel to shorten a few breaths. Leaning forward as though she were about to whisper a secret to the bartender, she asks for the best cognac. Some guy—nameless and faceless—will pay. She’s an anomaly. Young, attractive women don’t drink top-shelf cognac. And they don’t frequent jazz clubs. She’s part of the grand design. Heaven sent. A holy attempt to spark the spirits of middle-aged men trapped in the mundane. The bottle of booze left at the recovering alcoholic’s door with the anonymous Merry Christmas card—God’s doing. The mailman accidently delivering the neighbor’s copy of Mothering magazine to the couple desperately trying to get pregnant—God did it. All the boxes filled with past expiration date food handed out to the hungry and homeless—yep, God’s work.

scratch off—
one number shy
of the big win

by Jeffrey Winke
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stanley Pelter: sonata

mist eases
below a windbreak hawthorn
an alphorn grips air

forest walk. struggle. climb over mutilated trees, snap detached branches, crunch muddied twigs. from inside leaves, lighter than sun dried sounds, we hear a minor key drift of sad adagio notes grow sadder.
town based lovers
somewhere lips dedicate
to piccolo thrills
by Stanley Pelter
Claypole, Lincolnshire, England

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sharon Auberle: Musca Domestica

When you investigate my juicy plum, when you walk the rim of my Riesling, when you buzz me, gleefully, in the middle of a nap, I try, O fly, to dig deep into the Buddha corners of my heart and find the sanctity of every living thing, though I have great difficulty with mosquitoes as well, not to mention earwigs . . . but I digress. In spite of your fondness for all things revolting, I want to spare you, really I do. You, with your Kafkaesque legs and eyes, even my pen you explore! Is there any place you dare not? But heed this warning, O small one: when you walk about on my paper, rubbing those questionable feet above my fresh poem, then, my inquisitive little friend, you are history.

one fly
on the pane
by Sharon Auberle
Sister Bay, Wisconsin

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gary LeBel: The Stars Misplaced


“...I wanna hear and see / everything...”

Jimi Hendrix, Up from the Skies


The rainy scent of the Tennessee Mountains on a May evening floods the interstate—the traffic is light, the pace unhurried and leisurely, a drive I’ve made at least a hundred times.


A late eighties station wagon, a Dodge I think, pulls out in front of me. There’s something odd about this car: it’s transporting a body.


But the surprise of a body bag in full view doesn’t immediately sink in. What fascinates me even more is the driver.


He has a full head of thick white hair, slicked back and shining, not a strand out of place, late middle age, a dapper man, like the one who never talks in film noire. Though his window’s down, the hair doesn’t budge. His hands are long and slender, feminine. His taut pink skin looks shrink-wrapped over his high forehead and prominent cheekbones; his crisp white dress shirt matches his hair. This man doesn’t nail boards together on his days off. I’ll call him Charon, after the Greek underworld’s infamous chauffeur.


He looks straight ahead, leaning forward into the steering wheel with a grip that would put the Ancient Mariner’s to shame. The head of the corpse is less than six inches from his lap. To picture this fully you must imagine an old green station wagon, mostly windows. A juryrigged, makeshift stretcher lies in the center where the middle seats should be. I had always thought these kinds of ‘deliveries’ were shielded from the public eye behind pleated gray curtains but every day’s an education.


I watch the wind blow eerily through the bag, alternately expanding and deflating, rippling at times from head to toe. When it collapses, the nose and feet protrude.


In fact, I’m chasing them, increasing my speed as Charon does, passing when he passes, pulling in again right behind him, though I keep my distance. I can’t take my eyes off that immaculate hair, the resolute, forward gaze or the rippling body bag foreshortening feet-first a few yards in front of me like Mantegna's Dead Christ.


But not for a second do I feel the slightest morbidity in this game. To me there’s no one else on the highway; I’m welded to this moment by curiosity alone. It’s death and its business-as-usual aftermath I’m seeing, as plain as a cinderblock: no tears, no flowers, no hearts being weighed by Thoth, just someone’s fate and another’s job. What coin beneath the eyes, I wonder, nickel, peso, drachma?


After miles of this close pursuit, Charon shoots abruptly off the interstate toward one of those small Tennessee towns with a Native American name, his taillights swallowed by the exit ramp and the hips of crouching mountains. In truth, I could have turned off and followed him.


Their faces tonight

............after thirty odd years in the bellies of ships,

some who met the ‘blue-eyed boy’

............and those

who followed Jonah.


by Gary LeBel

Cumming, Georgia

first published in Abacus (2008)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Benita Kape: Unveiling Day

Some months before the full year has passed, the family make plans. The plaque for the grave—this will be kept simple. Two river stones and the plinth on which they stand collect lichen for under these stones our infant son has laid for forty years. All must be spruced up for the occasion; yet in time lichen will return to run over and around the shells that, like an ancient language, inscribe the surface of the stones.

It is the custom of the people that one year following the burial or, at a time suitably close to the first anniversary of that day, a ritual will take place. A plaque will be placed, in this case on the plinth beside our son's. Late in the day, the Stone Mason will complete his work. A cloak will then be reverently arranged and cover all while awaiting the final service.

lightly falling

A year ago, it had been difficult to say goodbye. A circle of a year and the immediate family invite the wider circle of family and friends to gather. There will be prayers and readings; these are a people whose orations are renowned. In the bitter cold of a winter's day, those gathered draw in closer. Kuia nod in respect as the first speaker is motioned forward by the minister. Our surviving son begins in Te Reo. Discreetly given notice earlier by his sisters, "Don't you keep us out here in the cold too long."

near the cemetery
turning back
for a bouquet

And though he forgoes the whakapapa that was recited at the tangi, those present listen intently as he describes a meeting with a clairvoyant over the past few days. Unexpected perhaps, though strangely comforting, as we all gather strength to move on. The forthright eyes of an elder, my husband in air-force uniform, smile back at us from a ceramic photo on the plaque as the cloak is drawn aside. "This was the blanket briefly laid but forever to keep him warm," a niece of Rongowhakatau iwi declares on the minister's final blessing. Leaving the cemetery, we sprinkle water over our heads and rinse our hands at the gate handbasins.

unveiling day
old notes, new notes
in our waiata

Unveiling = a custom of the Maori people of New Zealand.
Kuia = the women elders.
Te Reo = the Maori language.
whakapapa = the names and relationship of the extended families (whanau).
tangi = funeral
waiata = song
Rongowhakatau = one of many tribes on the East Coast
iwi = tribe

by Benita Kape
Gisborne, New Zealand

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dru Philippou: Hipólito, the Herder

with his crook
he navigates
the rough terrain
early bluegrass
and white clover

villagers liken
the shepherd to
ruddy-limbed Pan
piping to nymphs
nearby a spring

rustic viands
for his fare
and tinkling bells
the heavenly sleep
of the herder

Go down from the trail over the matted dried grass up along the fence; pass the long oblong water trough to the cedar in the distance, shading the grave with a red and yellow tulip. “I planted the bulbs last year!” says a friend. The sheepherder, Hipólito, is buried here. I can still read his name and dates, 1912-1971, carved on the cross. Nothing else is known about him, but hikers are often told, “Go by Hipólito’s grave.”

by Dru Philippou
Tao, New Mexico
first published in
Modern English Tanka V3, N 4 (2009)